The Hallam (BethlehemHallam Bethlehem Fund s) Fund is a charity set up to help the needy elderly in Bethlehem. In short its aim is to help to provide accommodation and temporal and spiritual care for the needy elderly in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, the place of Our Saviour’s birth, is located about 6 miles southwest of Jerusalem near the hill country of Judea. This place is sacred to Christians, Jews and Moslems and whilst it is a beautiful place, sadly, the environment is harsh. Centuries of conflict have resulted in decay and destruction. In 1995 Bethlehem again came under Palestinian control and the conflict and all that flows from it is ever present.

Bethlehem is mainly populated by Christians and Moslems. Among the Christians are Catholics (Latin Rite), Syrians, Malachites, Armenians and Maronites together with members of the Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Churches. In 1947 Christians made up 85% of the population of Bethlehem but by 1988 that number had reduced to 40%, and today the Christian population is very much further reduced as the young leave to avoid poverty and to live in peace.

There is little industry and few resources. Tourism is the mainstay of the population and in times of conflict the tourists do not come. The result is and has been, for some, extreme poverty. Those who can leave do so resulting in an exodus of Christians from the area. The Christian population of the Holy Land is now less than 1%.

Recent surveys show that housing is crowded. Families struggle. The norm is several generations of the family living in the same house. There are many families who have no income and the absence of welfare systems and pensions means that the elderly are particularly vulnerable. This is especially true of elderly ladies who are abandoned, widowed or whose families have left Palestine.

St Martha’s House is operated by a Palestinian Charity from rented accommodation. It is a day care centre which provides for the needy elderly and, whilst its ethos is Christian, it is open to all. St Martha’s extends a compassionate hand of support to poor and vulnerable elderly women of Bethlehem. It receives some help from other charities but even with outside help its present capacity is limited to 30 women. The list of those who are known to be in need is many times that number and there is no provision for elderly men.

Hallam Pilgrims have witnessed this situation first hand. They have also seen how the volunteers help to provide some dignity for those who have no income. They have seen programmes of social interaction and the provision of recreational opportunities, without which very many would literally be abandoned. They have also observed that despite the best efforts of the volunteers there is an inability to raise funds locally – the community simply does not have the resources.

The volunteers dream of having St Martha’s alongside a care centre for elderly gentlemen – for whom there is nothing at the present and perhaps one day … one day … even their own hospice … but for now the aim is to secure land (which is presently available) in order to provide a permanent care centre.

The situation cries out for help. Bishop John Rawsthorne has recognised that local efforts to raise money to build a centre are unlikely to be successful because the money is simply not available within the Bethlehem communities. He has supported the setting up of The Hallam (Bethlehem) Fund to purchase the land on which a centre can be built. The financial target is modest but the impact, when successful, will be monumental and long lasting. The target is to raise £250,000 in order to purchase the land necessary to build a centre.

A local permanent centre in Bethlehem will have a number of benefits. The centre will provide help to the needy elderly, but its presence will also assist in making it possible for the younger generation of Christians to remain in the Holy Land as the burden of caring for the elderly is eased.

The success of this appeal will be a first, but necessary, step in providing care and support for those who are alone, abandoned, and/or without income as they struggle with the challenges of daily living. It will also give hope to the younger generation while they wait for peace to come.

Please pray for the success of the Fund and in your generosity support it in whatever way you can.

If you would like to make a donation to this very worthy cause please either: send a cheque payable to ‘The Hallam (Bethlehem) Fund’ to The Treasurer, Graham Smith, 37 Conalan Avenue, Bradway, Sheffield, S17 4PG, or visit the website for ways to make a payment: www.hallambethlehemfund.com.